Revealed Emotionality: Three rules to let your feelings radiate

A friend of mine recently told me that he is getting tired of the sorts of roleplaying games that he most often plays in, and he’s thinking of moving instead to more freeform and improvisational games. I respect the decision of course, but it’s a shame because it means I might never get to play in a game with him again.

I can’t do freeform roleplay. I need rules and structures and hooks and mechanics to help me carve out a space for myself in the conversation, which I am otherwise pretty bad at.

I especially love rules that allow and encourage me to to express the thoughts and feelings of my characters at the table. I find it one of the hardest parts of roleplaying and don’t do it spontaneously. When there are no opportunities for this in a game, it therefore often doesn’t happen. And if something doesn’t happen at the table, then it isn’t canon in the game, so the characters I play tend to be somewhat 2-dimensional. This is either intentional (I bypass the whole issue by playing transparently straightforward characters who wear their hearts on their sleeves) or unintentional (characters that are fascinating in the confines of my head become far less interesting when I’m playing them).

So in this blog I’m going to talk about three examples of very simple rules from games I’ve played that I have found to be a huge help in letting me express myself and my characters. Any one of them could be easily lifted out of their games and used for campaigns under other systems, too. Check them out, and let me know if there’s any I missed! (And don’t forget to check out my last blog post, if you haven’t already, about using emotions as actual traits that you can roll in a game!)

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Applied Emotionality: A new trait set for Cortex Prime

The emotions from Inside Out
The emotions from Inside Out. Clockwise from top: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Sadness, and Anger.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I recently ran a playtest campaign of the draft rules for Cortex Prime. I provided feedback on the system to Cam Banks, and my group updated to the latest version of the SRD several times in the campaign, but the campaign is now over and Cortex Prime‘s Game Handbook is close to publication. I was delighted to see so much of my group’s feedback addressed in subsequent versions of the rules, but that’s not all I have to say on the matter!

Cortex Prime, being modular by design, is customised for each campaign that uses it, and a quirk in my campaign’s rules reference has given me an idea for a brand new mod for the community’s toolkit: the emotions trait set!

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Drama Dice: An advancement mod for Cortex Prime (with Benj Davis)

Drama dice are a variant advancement and reward mechanic in Cortex Prime, designed by Benj Davis originally as a hack for Smallville RPG. They combine elements from the existing Cortex Prime mods of growth and hero dice and, as the name suggests, they are intended mainly for dramatic games where relationships drive the plot and feelings change over time.

I’ve been aware of Benj’s rules for drama dice for a while (he mentioned them in the comments when I posted my own Smallville hack, for instance), but most recently he explained them in a thread at the Cortex System Roleplaying Google+ community (where there have been a ton of great conversations lately about Cortex stuff, check it out). With Benj’s latest explanation, I had a few realisations:

  1. These rules are great, and I hadn’t really understood how they worked before. It helped this time that I had done something similar with hero dice in my recent villain-themed Cortex Prime game, so now I can see just how good they are.
  2. Benj has explained the rules several times, for several people, in several different places, but there has never been a single place where they are all set out that people can just link to. Given that I have a blog, I offered to put the rules here and he agreed!
  3. Now that Cortex Prime playtest is just about over, and the publication of the actual game handbook is imminent, it seemed like an ideal time to update the terminology and present drama dice as a mod for Cortex Prime for maximum accessibility.

So, without further ado, how could you incorporate drama dice into your own dramatic Cortex Prime campaigns?

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My first RPG competition!: Put Away Childish Things

Hey everyone! I entered the 200 Word RPG Challenge 2018, which is for designers to submit games of no more than 200 words (hence the name). It’s the first RPG game design competition I ever entered, but I’ve had fun with it and will probably do it again!

I’m also pretty happy with my entry, which is called Put Away Childish Things, and which you can all check out on the Challenge website here: Put Away Childish Things!

Finalists are announced on 14 June, and winners on 1 July. I don’t expect to place, but I’m obviously hopeful, for myself and all my friends who submitted games as well.

One of the reasons this was so fun, and also so rewarding, was because a small group of my friends made it an event. We wrote games, shared them with each other, provided feedback and encouragement, etc. So if you have time, maybe you’d like to check out their games too:

  • Alberto Muti (who prompted us all to take part) wrote Keep It Casual
  • Michael Duxbury wrote Rhea (and, being Michael, also a second game available on his blog)
  • Emily Savidge wrote Day at the Planet (an excellent idea she’s had for ages, so it’s great that it’s out there now!)
  • Talisa Tavella wrote House Hunt-ed-ing (which I love for the authorial voice as much as the gameplay)

If you read Put Away Childish Things or any of these others, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them! And if you play any of them, then come on you have to let me know! If you submitted a game too, send me a link to it and I’ll check it out. I’ve found a lot of cool ideas just by reading other submissions at random, and I look forward to reading the finalists and winners, which I’m sure will be awesome. Exciting!


Bring on the dwelfs: Mixed race options in Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Kiliel from Titansgrave by Nick Gan
Kiliel, Alison Haislip’s half-elf/half-dwarf from Titansgrave. It’s not exactly D&D… because half-elf/half-dwarves don’t exist in D&D. That’s the point.

I recently finished playing in a Dungeons & Dragons (5th edition) campaign, and the same group is now planning for the next one, in the same setting but with all new characters. We’re even using D&D Beyond for it, because if we’re going down that rabbit hole we might as well go all the way, right?

And going through character creation has got me thinking again about fantasy races in D&D, and pondering yet again the age-old question: what in the Nine Hells is up with the Half-Elf and Half-Orc races? What makes them so special that they get treated as distinct races in their own right? Why can’t I play as any other type of hybrid, like a half-elf/half-dwarf dwelf? Well, this time I actually decided to do something about it.

You can play other types of hybrid in D&D 5e. Read on to see how.

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Will you find your happily ever after with The Dance and The Dawn?

Cover of The Dance and the Dawn, via ndpdesign.comThe Dance and the Dawn is a fantasy roleplaying game of romantic tragedy by Dev Purkayastha of Sweet Potato Press. It tells the tale of a midnight waltz in the court of the Ice Queen, where the forlorn Ladies of Ash have come to dance with the mysterious Lords of Ice, each Lady in search of the True Love that can yield them happiness. Happily ever afters are possible, but far from guaranteed.

The game is designed for one-shot play for 3-5 players (but 4 players is recommended). One of the players is the GM (or Narrator) and the others play the Ladies of Ash.

The action of the game takes place in the ballroom of the Ice Queen’s court. The dance floor is represented by a chessboard, and all the attendees by chess pieces. As the pieces move around the board, the clock ticks on to morning. At dawn, the Ladies will have to make their fateful choices.

I recently had the opportunity to play the game, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not for everyone, and I’m ambivalent about its replay value, but there’s a lot of great stuff in it that I think is worth unpacking.

The Dance and the Dawn is available for purchase from Lulu or Indie Press Revolution. There’s even a live-action roleplay (or “theatrical experience”) adaptation of the game, if that’s more your sort of thing.

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The Legend of Wonder Woman [Step into Superheroes]

Step into Superheroes is a banner for my occasional blog posts that set RPGs aside and focus instead on another of my great passions: superheroes.

Legend of Wonder Woman cover by Renae de Liz and Ray Dillon

It’s International Women’s Day (for another 5 minutes in the UK), and I’ve been re-reading The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae de Liz.

I love this book so much. It’s gorgeous, it’s moving, it’s funny, it’s uplifting. It’s human and feminist and diverse. It’s the greatest origin story of Wonder Woman that I’ve ever read.

Drawing on inspiration from Wonder Woman’s earliest stories and from throughout the character’s 75+ years of history, as well as adding enough new elements and perspectives to keep it fresh and new, de Liz has created something incredible: a new definitive backstory for one of the most iconic characters in comics history, unburdened from the messy self-contradictory continuity that can weigh down more mainstream versions.

It makes me sad that this beautiful book will not be getting a second volume, but even as a standalone graphic novel it’s a must for any comics fan that has even a passing care for the amazing Amazon. It’s currently discounted on (the other) Amazon, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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